August 27, 2014

SSMP report recommends sewage system

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Final Report of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) is now in the hands of Council, after $1 million in research and debate about the Town’s future, and it recommends further study of sewers for Erin village and Hillsburgh.

The need for a study on servicing and growth was identified in 2004. It finally started with a public meeting in 2009, and will end with a public meeting next Tuesday, September 2, at the council chambers. The following week, Council is expected to decide on a preferred strategy and whether to accept the recommendation for further environmental assessment.

The 220-page Final Report by consultant BM Ross (plus six appendices) can be downloaded at It includes a five-page executive summary that outlines several options and a series of recommendations.

It urges the Town to provide water and wastewater services to all existing and future urban residents and businesses. Rural areas would be unaffected, but septic systems and private wells in urban areas would eventually be eliminated.

If approved, the SSMP report is intended as the primary tool to help Erin build a case for government funding, a process that could start immediately. The capital cost could be $58 million for traditional sewers, plus about $7 million in water system upgrades, but the Town does not have enough borrowing capacity to consider such a venture. It would require grants covering 60-66% of costs to make it possible.

Doing the work in extended stages, inclusion of private financing, use of a performance-based contract and adoption of alternative technologies could make the project more financially viable, but those decisions will be made later.

The report discusses the option of excluding Hillsburgh from servicing, but says this would be harmful, concentrating businesses, services and about 2,500 of new population in Erin village. The report also recommends against the Big Pipe option (directing sewage to other towns) because it would spur intense population and business growth and be contrary to existing rules on discharge to the Great Lakes.

The report outlines the consequences of keeping things as they are. It estimates urban homeowners would pay a total of about $30 million over the next 25 years to replace or upgrade septic systems (at $20,000 each). Many lots are too small for standard systems and would require more expensive treatment. Some lots are too small for any new system and some retail properties are dependent on holding tanks.

The lack of sewers is making it difficult to attract new businesses to Erin, restricting existing businesses that may be forced to leave and limiting the availability of moderate-cost housing for young families, singles and seniors.

Remaining on septics is likely to result in a municipal inspection system to ensure that systems on private property are pumped regularly, and repaired or replaced if not functioning properly.

It is possible that Erin could revert to some housing development with septic systems on larger lots – a trend that helped prompt the SSMP. This would require special permission from the province, since it is not the preferred method of development. There had been concern about the impact of septic systems on the river, but that has turned out to be relatively low.

If the Town is not building a sewage system, a large developer could theoretically do an environmental assessment and build their own. The Town would have to approve the size and location of a subdivision, but could end up owning and operating the developer’s treatment plant – and adding new modules to service existing homes in the future.

Council has voted to reserve sewage capacity for the 4,500 existing urban residents. Had it not done so, developers would be eager to use it.

Completion of the SSMP ends an official freeze on new subdivisions that has lasted 10 years in the Official Plan, but development will still have to wait for a detailed sewage plan. The SSMP is expected to be used as a guide when
 Council revises the Official Plan and allocates growth.

As a result of the SSMP, which protects the West Credit River by limiting population growth to 1,500 people (500 homes), there is not nearly enough sewage capacity to satisfy the plans of developers.

Council could decide to split growth between Erin village and Hillsburgh. About 20% of the growth has to go to infilling existing neighbourhoods. Council may set aside some of the growth capacity for commercial and industrial projects – perhaps another 20%, the report says. A small portion of the sewage treatment capacity would be used for septage from rural septic tanks.

Solmar Developments, which had hoped to build about 1,200 homes, has objected to the Town reserving sewage capacity for existing residents. Other landowners on hold during the SSMP include Manuel Tavares (800 units in Hillsburgh), Jim Holmes, owner of Erin Heights Golf Course (173 units as of 2001), and Gary Langen, with land on the west side of Eighth Line.

Appendix C of the SSMP has correspondence from developers and community groups Concerned Erin Citizens and Transition Erin, with summaries of Public Meetings and Liaison Committee meetings. Other appendices include a Background Report, a Problem/Opportunity Statement, a scientific Existing Conditions report by Credit Valley Conservation, and cost estimates and financial analysis by Watson and Associates Economists.